Peace or Well-Being:
Texts from Luke’s Gospel

This speech was first presented at the 1998 All-Mennonite Women’s Retreat in India. This article appeared in Decades of Feminist Writing, self-published in 2020, 242-50.

When a staff member with the “Mission, Ecumenism and Dialogue” department at Gurukul Lutheran Theological College and Research Institute in Chennai (formerly Madras), southern India, I was invited by Indian Mennonite leadership to present multiple speeches at the 1998 India All-Mennonite Women’s Retreat held a several-hour train ride from Kolkata, eastern India. Several hundred women from diverse locations of India gathered under a large tent to sing and share thoughts on themes of being peacemakers. To assist speakers of multiple Indian languages, my English was translated into Hindi by seminary teacher Rachel Bagh. The annual event provides women opportunity for socialization and curry meals together. The women, most of whom wore colorful saris, became most energetic when acting out short dramas or singing in their distinct language groups. A memory to cherish was communion being served by women during the final session. Without enough small glasses for the symbolic juice, once used they were quickly washed by participants in metal buckets outside the tent prior to reuse.

Having first lived in India when teachers at the international Woodstock School in the foothills of the Himalayas from 1962-65, husband John and I have had several shorter assignments in India, including twice at Kodaikanal International School, south India. We have also learned to know Goshen College students from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka during intervening years. To engage with Indian women as their guest presenter was a special privilege. In addition to themes of peacemaking discussed in Luke’s gospel followed by in the home and church, I spoke on “Interreligious Peace: What is Women’s Role?” Also noted were women winners of the Nobel Peace Prize plus some Mennonite women who have been active peacemakers.

Peace, or Well-Being – Texts from Luke’s Gospel

The New or Second Testament understanding of peace grows out of the Hebrew Bible’s (Old Testament) attention to shalom. The Hebrew view understood peace to encompass well-being for everything—people, land, and all of created life. God blesses all. God wishes wholeness for all. Most people desire peace. True peace includes ample resources untouched by violence or disaster, friendship and mutual empowerment, freedom from enemies, sustained justice, and union or wholeness with God.

But the world has yet to achieve true peace. The journey toward wholeness has begun, but it is blocked in many ways. Questions occur: Will peace ever be complete in this life? If not, will we agree to praise partial but positive efforts toward peace? Does knowing the goal of peace motivate or discourage us? Perhaps both. To understand peace can cause us to renew our commitment to make it more transparent in our world.

Using texts from the Gospel of Luke, we look briefly at the concept of peace through three channels: as a greeting, a path, and a response to faith. Then we will examine discord, such as the Samaritan-Jewish conflict, and divisions within the family or religious settings. Compared to Old Testament reference to warfare, Luke says little about it. He does, however, present brief accounts of swords and warnings of future persecution.

Peace as Path, Greeting, or Response to Faith.

Recall scriptural examples. When able to speak, after being temporarily struck dumb, Zechariah sang about the coming day that will “guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Lk. 1:79) People expected the Messiah to bless God’s chosen ones with earthly peace, meaning safety or salvation. The “way of peace”—or forgiveness and reconciliation with God—would extend God’s presence. Thanks to God’s presence, the angels praised God for peace (or salvation) and good will on earth, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among all people who please God.” (2:14) Jesus’ coming made possible true peace with God. Such peace was more than absence of war on land or sea enforced by emperors. Such peace could be realized when people chose to be redeemed in Christ. And Simeon recognized God’s plan to allow him, a servant, to “depart in peace,” (2:29). As a master released a slave from keeping watch, so God released Simeon to die. His work was done. The Prince of Peace had come.

Later, Jesus sent messengers to tell others about a new way to live. They were to say, “Peace to this house.” (10:5) The customary oriental greeting—said when meeting or leaving another—was “Peace be to you.” Jesus added choices; hearers could either accept or reject salvation through the Redeemer. If they refused a blessing, it could be returned to those who gave it. Most epistles (except Hebrews, James and I John) begin and end with some greeting of peace. (Rom. 15:33, 16:20; Phil. 4:7, 9; I Thess. 5:23) “Peace be with you,” so commonly expressed among Jewish people, may have partially lost meaning. But when connected with grace, mercy or love as a gift of God, it stressed the conviction that as “peace” or Savior, Christ brings wholeness.

The term peace also occurs when praising God during Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. “Blessed be the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (19:38) This phrase recalls the chorus of angels at Jesus’ birth. (2:14) It affirms that God deserves praise for preparing peace in heaven. In coming to humanity, Jesus established true peace between humanity and divinity. Hosanna! resounds. But disappointment and surprise awaited the Palm Sunday crowd. When the resurrected Christ said “Peace be with you” (John 20:19, 21, 26), he gave more than a greeting. Those who had felt forsaken or were startled heard again the promise given during the Last Supper: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Christ’s gift of peace to the disciples was to accompany them as peacemakers.

On four occasions Luke ends an encounter with Jesus by joining faith, salvation and peace (well-being). To the grateful woman who anointed his feet (7:50), Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” He gave that blessing to the woman freed of a strange flow of blood, “Daughter, your faith has made you well: go in peace.” (8:48) He told the blind beggar (18:42) and the one grateful man relieved of leprosy, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (17:19) Because of faith, people were forgiven. They knew inner wholeness. Because of faith, people knew healing. Because of faith, they went in peace—saved. As belief made them grateful, people were more fully cured. They then chose to follow this Friend rather than other power figures.

Peace and Racial Discord

Numerous texts show that achieving peace can be complex. We experience that too. What we justify determines or reverses our actions. We may carry resentment. We may deny our own bias. We may let lack of knowledge shape opinion. Or we may sincerely work to counter these, but never fully succeed. The same was true of biblical conflict. Several stories about Samaritans show the complexity of achieving peace. Jesus shows his Jewish listeners that precisely those people whom they thought they could exclude were to be welcomed into God’s new ordering of life. I will explain why this racial conflict existed.

During Israel’s life under kings, the Samaritan people hoped for a prophet, or restorer, like Moses. They looked for a deliverer, called Taheb, while later Israelites longed for an anointed king, like David. When the Northern Kingdom (Israel) fell to Assyrian rule, most people were deported. Those who remained in Israel married immigrants who moved into the region. The Jews of the Southern Kingdom (Judah) thought that those mixed people who then lived in Israel, later known as Samaritans, were impure. When the Jews from Judah returned from exile in Babylon, they refused to let the Samaritans help rebuild the Jerusalem Temple. So, the Samaritans did their best to hinder the work. Sharp conflict, including many deaths, followed. Although Jewish law forbade having a temple outside of Jerusalem, the Samaritans built their own on Mount Gerizim. They also formed their own rival priesthood.

Major crises followed. Hyrcanus, a Jewish Hasmonean ruler, destroyed the Gerizim temple and the city of Samaria more than a century before Jesus’ time. During Jesus’ childhood, the Samaritans defiled the Jerusalem Temple by placing bones in the sanctuary during a Passover festival. Several decades after Jesus’ death, the feud led to mass murders and revenge killings. Such discontent can be seen in the account in Luke 9:51-56. Jesus and his circle of followers were on their way to Jerusalem through Samaria. Aware of conflicts between pilgrims and local residents, Jesus’ group asked for lodging and meals in a village. The Samaritans refused. Perhaps they would not help anyone headed for worship at the hated Temple. Perhaps they knew that Jesus’ group would not honor Mount Gerizim as they passed through Samaria.

Hearing the messengers’ report, James and John asked Jesus if he, like Elijah, might send down fire to consume those who refused hospitality. But compassion could not condone such revenge. Jesus encouraged his followers to tolerate rather than violently oppose enemies. He restated the principle of nonresistance to evil. Choosing to be fully human, to embody the image of God in which humanity had been originally created, Jesus had come to save and not to destroy people. Such new lessons about social order were difficult to learn. Resentment and retaliation only deepened the conflict. Limits to well-being for all died slowly.

Another incident, perhaps the most familiar one, features the good Samaritan. (10:25-37) How difficult for many Jews to put those two words together—to have good describe a Samaritan. To help us understand, we need to put ‘good’ before whatever group or individual we resent or exclude—Pakistanis, or same sex people who share close relationships, or those people who do not let us control them. To what extent do we welcome such people to be our neighbor? Would we give mercy to or receive it from them? Or might we also make excuses? We might not want to defile ourselves or mar our reputation. Or perhaps we try to include, but find the stance too lonely.

Luke had a special interest in Samaritans, those considered outside by the orthodox insiders. Who could be more orthodox than a Jewish lawyer, beholden to 613 rules to justify his actions? A deep challenge to legalism lay imbedded within Jesus’ answer to a lawyer’s question about eternal life. First, Jesus reshaped concern for salvation by works. He told the lawyer, who knew the two basic commandments, just do them! Stop using your rules to excuse inaction! The lawyer then asked the critical question, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer buried within the story that Jesus told of a Samaritan who modeled love for neighbor must have thoroughly unnerved the lawyer.

Those who heard about the man who was robbed and beaten on the barren road between Jerusalem and Jericho were informed. They knew that many priests and Levites returned home to Jericho when off duty at the Temple. They knew about the thieves or bandits who hid in the region. They knew that businessmen from Samaria traveled there and that many travelers carried healing agents, such as oil and wine. Hearers might at least have expected the caregiver to be a Jew without religious title. The issue then would have been discontent with Jewish hierarchy. Instead, help comes from a member of a despised people. The compassionate Samaritan not only offers first aid; he goes out of his way to meet the man’s multiple needs. He even offers to pay additional costs on his return. To hear a hated Samaritan being praised for model behavior, or that Jews could receive help from Samaritans, forced hearers to deal with their racial hatred and conflict.

If we think that only people who are like us are ‘neighbors,’ we tend to exclude others. If we feel responsible only for those who support our views, who drink tea the way that we do, or who exchange favors with us, our concept of ‘neighbor’ is too narrow. The Peacemaker, who was both a priest and prophet, called for deeper understanding. Forcing the lawyer to stop hiding behind human laws, Jesus ignored the lawyer’s verbal skill and called him to ‘be a neighbor’ to others. Any person in need is a neighbor. Eternal life is for those who provide well-being for all, beginning with those neglected in society. Luke was persistent. He wanted readers to comprehend Jesus’ radical message: both Jews and non-Jews were to join God’s order of justice. If we exclude some people, we neglect peace and fail to demonstrate God’s kin-dom.

Another model Samaritan appears in the account of Luke 17:11-19. Near the border between Samaria and Galilee, Jesus met ten people who had leprosy. They cried for mercy. One of those considered ritually unclean by most Jews was Samaritan; the others were Jews. Delaying a miracle, the Healer told them to go to their respective priests. As they went, in faith that the cure would happen, they experienced it. The skin disease that had made them outcasts disappeared. All could have waited for the priest to pronounce them ‘clean’ before expressing thanks. But one, the Samaritan, returned first to thank the Healer. Only one chose to glorify God first. While all were healed, the Samaritan set an example for receiving salvation (wholeness). Responsive faith, not race, led to peace.

Peace and Family Discord

Biblical stories also reveal discord in families. Luke 10:38-42 records Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha and Mary in Bethany. Here are two sisters with their close Friend. Here is conflict over roles, over being and doing. Perhaps a widow and the owner of the home, Martha seems upset. Her duty was to offer hospitality. With a healthy sense of self, Martha confronted Jesus. She no doubt wanted to join Mary who listened to and talked with the Teacher. No doubt Mary often helped with the housework. But when given the opportunity to learn scripture, she considered household duty to be second.

Jesus’ practice of including women when he taught religious truth itself caused conflict. Women were excluded from learning scripture. Jesus attacked that injustice. He enabled women to be informed witnesses. He showed that peace of well-being is possible for all when privilege is mutual. Even as Martha felt that her service was unappreciated, Jesus states that Mary had wisely chosen to learn more about being a disciple. From John’s story of the death of Lazarus (the women’s brother 11:27), we know that Martha also revealed being a faithful disciple. Confident she had confessed: “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” So, she and Jesus spoke frankly. He gently chided her excess concern to provide for him, even though her work also proved her love.

Service to others can distract us, if not balanced with personal growth and devotion to God. Overdoing or neglecting either solitude or action helps neither. Martha’s concern for duty led her to understand that giving less time to some tasks can release time for developing faith. Concern for justice in families is also valid. Roles deserve to be duly shared. And feelings need to be expressed. To not confront injustice shows as much lack of peace as addressing it may cause. Mary did not quit learning with her Teacher. And freed from a sense of excess duty, Martha grew as a disciple.

Another Second Testament text that refers to peace is Luke 12:51-53: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. . .” Some Christians have a false concept of peace. They care only about absence of conflict. When such people judge other believers caught in conflict, they extend conflict. At times, well-being emerges only through conflict. This may follow when justice is denied, when one party refuses to repent, or when people deprive others of social or economic worth.

Most Jews expected the coming Messiah to bring Jewish victory over every enemy or nation. But victory that fails to do justice to all involved is always partial. The desire to dominate, which is sin, fails to understand God’s radical kin-dom. Jesus knew that he would bring dissension. As he confronted established religious and social patterns, conflict would develop. Family members and generations would differ. Enmity would follow. Many who joined this Dissenter would be hated or persecuted. Yet, he always pointed ahead to God’s coming as complete peace.

Jesus invited people to true discipleship in spite of the cost. (14:26-27) His words about hating father and mother may sound harsh. In Semitic thought, the word often translated as hate means to love less. God’s devoted disciples were to avoid being over-possessive about family. If asked, “Who are my mother and brother?” they recalled that all who do the will of God are redeemed. When conflict over following Christ affects other ties, believers will continue to love family members—even if they appear to love them less.

Peace and Religious Discord

Religious authorities could not tolerate Jesus’ acts of healing on the Sabbath. (6:6-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6) Since scribes and Pharisees watched to find fault, Jesus acted openly. Standing by the man whose hand was withered, he asked the leaders about doing good on the Sabbath. Is refusal to save life not similar to destroying it? The sensible question irritated them. Jesus’ ability to know the thoughts and desires of others added to the discord. His power to restore a part of the body through words could not be denied. To point out the obvious was disturbing. Who among the crowd did not, on some Sabbath, have an animal fall into a pit or well? When that happened, did they work to get it out of agony? Or who among them did not untie their animal and lead it to water on the Sabbath?

By comparison, would Jesus be wrong to help a person out of misery? The point was doubly sharp since they considered the woman who Jesus healed to be property, like an animal. Nothing in Scripture forbade healing. Yet, some rabbis created new rules when interpreting the laws. For example, they said that only in extreme cases could healing be done on the Sabbath. It was ‘work.’ A woman whose spine had been deformed for eighteen years did not present an emergency. Jesus attacked the leaders’ value of ritual laws over people in need. Human life must be valued. Although Jesus broke some ritual laws, he presumably in faith observed the Sabbath. He rested and worshiped God regularly in the Temple. He destroyed Satan’s control of peoples’ lives on that day. He confronted leaders with the weakness of their rationale for killing him. How could murder be valid action for the Sabbath? Too often, those most guilty of breaking the sacred Sabbath were proud of their own ‘holiness.’

Another occasion of discord was the Temple cleanup. (19:45-46) While John records this incident as Jesus’ first great public act of ministry, other gospel writers place it during Jesus’ last week. The Challenger could not allow the Temple to be used as a bazaar for sales. To exchange coins for travelers or sell ritually clean animals for sacrifice was all right. But the Court of the Gentiles was being profaned. Not only had it become a city shortcut, it allowed corruption, greed, and racial prejudice. A Messiah was expected to bring reform. Direct conflict with those who guarded religious power was inevitable. When Jesus stopped their profit-making, their scorn increased. The Reformer expressed disfavor through the neutral emotion of anger. Priest and prophet merged to address the outcome of anger. Truly, for human beings to image God involves being either kind or severe. (Rom. 11:22)

Jesus denounces evil and evildoers. The high priest family of Ananias had become rich at the expense of others. So, Jesus wished to restore a place for deprived Gentiles, in order for them to pray to God. In that act, Jesus revealed God’s nature as surely as he did on the cross. Wrath can be inherent within holiness. Discord that results from confronting injustice can be part of peacemaking.

We find far less war imagery in the Second Testament than in the Hebrew Scripture. Yet, references to swords, either real or as metaphor occur. (22:35-38, 49-53) Seen as metaphor, the Teacher warns the disciples to prepare for the future. Isaiah 53:12 must be fulfilled. Jesus will become one with—or take the place of—sinners. Rejected, he will not be with believers much longer. They will need to find their way within a hostile world. Therefore, he urges: be courageous, be determined, be like an armed fighter who continues to struggle. Speaking in metaphor, Jesus tells the disciples to know what armor of the Spirit is theirs. But they miss the point. Someone says, “Lord, we have two swords.” To this, a frustrated Jesus sadly replies, “Enough of this! Say no more.” Their failure to understand may destroy him.

Luke then tells about the motley, armed crowd that came to arrest Jesus on the Mount of Olives. Not yet comprehending his refusal to meet violence with violence, the disciples wonder if they should use force to prevent the arrest. In fact, impulsive Peter cuts off an ear of Malchus, the slave of the high priest. Peter fails to realize that this action could make Jesus appear to be a leader of violent people. Jesus reminds his disciples: God’s way is not the violent way of the world. They watched as the Peacemaker gave himself to God’s purpose and plan.

According to those who wished for Pilate to get rid of him, Jesus was anything but a peacemaker. (23:1-5, 13-25) He was called disturber of the peace. A threat to public order, he perverted the people and nation. He encouraged people to give first place to God, not Caesar. He claimed to be king. To get rid of the troublemaker, groups who normally hated each other joined efforts. They opposed his call for a new social pattern that denounced privilege for the mighty and granted new dignity and purpose for those limited by society.

Their charges that Jesus was a self-appointed king were unfair. Not understanding a servant stance that empowers, they thought of kingship only as control and domination. But Jesus’ style of order and peace was not what most Jews expected from a Messiah. Nor was it what Roman officials modeled. Yet Pilate tried to dismiss Jesus’ case, offering to reprimand the defendant. He saw the people’s malice and that Jesus was not a criminal. Those with religious power had stirred the masses to pressure Pilate. That approach could not have been less just for a Prince of Peace who offered well-being to all.

Jesus had warned believers to expect persecution. (21:10-19) He had also assured them of God’s presence. Through them, God would address opponents. In the radical cause of Jesus, few would escape hatred, betrayal, or death. But to endure to the end is the call. John’s gospel agrees. Jesus invites believers into conflict with the world. (John 15:18-20) Followers can expect trouble since Jesus said what people resented. He endorsed a new order; he reshaped peace. With this caution from Jesus, we conclude this review of references to peace or well-being that appear in Luke’s gospel.